So, seen any good ones today?
enjoy - and survive - Toronto's Festival of Festivals
(The Globe &
Mail September 4, 1992)
Toronto film nuts are already half crazy preparing for the cultural decathlon
known as the Festival of Festivals, the annual movie orgy that begins Sept.
10. Official programmers have screened a mountain of movies and whittled
their selections to a mere 335 films from 42 countries, leaving thousands of
eager consumers with both a marvellous prospect and an excruciating dilemma:
How many films can we see in a day? What mustn't be missed? How will we
ever know? Can we cope?
As a veteran of film festivals past, I offer to those new to the game some
advice born of tough experience - my own and that of several other fanatics:
Calling Time Out
Steps should be taken immediately to ensure maximum
festival participation. Scratch Sept. 10-19 off your calendar. Arrange days off
work, or, at the very least, drop hints to colleagues that you seem to be
coming down with a seasonal affliction. Warn everyone that, except for
emergencies, you are unavailable. Those whose birthdays or anniversaries fall
within this hallowed time must settle for abject apologies. There can be no
A Thousand Different Festivals
There are as many festivals as there are
festival-goers, each of us drafting our own schedules, mixing content,
matching times, picking from various series - Contemporary World Cinema,
Asian Horizons, Latin American Panorama, Perspective Canada, The Edge,
Remain calm. Help lies in the official handbook. Study it carefully. Pore over
descriptions of each movie provided by programmers such as Helga
Stephenson, Piers Handling, Kay Armatage, David Overbey. In time you will
learn to rely on the opinions of some and reject others. Watch for certain key
words - "restrained," for instance, could mean dull; "surreal,"
Various pundits publish lists of What's Hot and What's Not. Sift through
everything. Make your dream list before you confront reality, the overall
listings - titles, dates and times - that appear in several Toronto newspapers
before the festival begins. Decide which "must sees" you can fit in. Don't
despair. We all compromise.
You Are What You See
There are those who must see this season's U.S.
blockbusters, or sit in the audience with visiting superstars. The galas exist for
this sort of schmoozing. For most of us, however, a reverse snobbism takes
hold. We avoid the dressed-up throng at the Elgin theatre, craving instead the
latest by a little-known director or actor we treasure. Perhaps it's a subject that
fascinates us - the world of women, Hong Kong gangsters, aging
freedom-fighters, the demi-monde. Not for us the froth of Hollywood. We
await the homegrown Canadian films, or the national cinemas of distant places
like Turkey, Finland, or Burkina Faso. My personal favourite last year was
Tinpis Run, the first feature ever made in Papua New Guinea. True festival
patrons set out on a 10-day journey to strange and thrilling places, real and
The Right Ticket
The festival box office at the Colonnade on Bloor Street
offers a smorgasbord of passes and coupons - unlimited daytime screenings
($60); evening galas ($45); coupons (10 for $60); and the enthusiast's best
friends, the Festival Pass ($125), good for everything except galas. If time is a
problem, coupons might be your best bet, but bear in mind they must be
rationed like life-jackets on the Titanic. During the last days of the festival,
victims of poor planning stalk line-ups, hunting for leftover coupons.
Quality Versus Quantity
Festival passholders delight in amortizing their costs, working frantically to
beat the system. The first movie, they moan, cost them $125. The one after
that, $62.50, then only $41.67, and so on. Bargain-hunters shoehorn five or
six films into each day for a total of 50 or so, bringing each down to $2.50 a
pop. A Pyrrhic victory, I say. Three-a-day is my limit, although there are
those who swear they can recall every precious moment in the hundreds of
hours they've seen. I remain skeptical. See fewer and enjoy them more.
Birds of A Feather . . . But Not Always
Going with a friend can be fun, but
not if it results in too many compromises. This is a time for unabashed
selfishness. Surrender only to the movies. Indulge in the company of
strangers. Lineups are the marketplace for opinions. Most films are screened
twice, so everywhere, everyone asks, "What have you seen that's good?"
Dressing Down For Success
Casual, comfortable, adaptable is the fashion for
the diehard. Let Bloor Street shop owners sneer. Prepare for a various climate,
outdoors and inside theatres. Layers are good. So are knapsacks, foldable
raingear, sensible shoes, and a crummy sweater you can use to hold your seat.
A Well-Stocked Mess Kit
There is only so much popcorn you can eat, so
many hotdogs you can snarf, before intestinal fortitude disappears. It's
unreasonable to expect us to bring homemade sandwiches when we stumble
into bed each night too tired to undress, but picking up fresh fruit and bottled
water is possible. You'll discover places to buy salads or sushi as you run
Just Say No
You're 30 minutes into the movie. You sense your boredom.
Revulsion or snickering will not let up. If you're a passholder, leave. There's
no reward for masochism or indecision. Carry your schedule and festival
handbook at all times. Remember, there are plenty of other movies.
Toronto festival audiences are different; they talk before the
movie starts. They look after one another's belongings. They often applaud
when the movie ends, even if the director isn't there. They don't mind lineups
but they hate queue-jumpers. They carry books so they won't waste time, a
Walkman to defend against anyone beside them who loudly summarizes the
last six movies he's seen, a tiny flashlight to read programs inoffensively in
theatres, a watch that glows in the dark, and nothing that beeps when it
Living With Failure
Face it now. Three hundred and thirty-five movies can't be
great. Most, alas, won't even be good, so that even after scrupulous planning
and following up on hot tips, it's possible to come up empty. There have been
years, I confess, when I've managed to wade through an entire festival without
seeing one movie I adored, somehow missing those my friends swear were
But that's history. This year's festival is sure to be sensational. Or parts of it
will be, and even the bad moments will have their own tribal charm.
Copyright Geraldine Sherman, 1992
Return to Articles by Geraldine Sherman
Return to Geraldine Sherman's Home